Sometimes Paul and I walk the dogs along the local bike trail near our house. As we stroll along the paved walkways, we look into the woods on either side. Because this is New England, we see beautiful tall pines interspersed with old oak, sturdy maples and young birches. We often come across stone walls, covered in moss and lichen, fallen down in places.
We know that these walls mark the boundaries of farms long gone. We realize that farmers lived here a hundred or more years ago, and that they cleared this rocky land for their crops, using the upturned stones to build boundary walls that marked their fields.
But what intrigues me more than anything else on our woodland ramblings is the sight of huge old overgrown lilacs, standing some ten feet apart in the middle of the woods.
If I look closely, I can usually make out the slightly sunken rectangle that would have once marked a front door. Sometimes I am able to move aside the grasses and weeds to find a little cluster of daffodils or day lilies. Sometimes we can see the shape of the root cellar that once stood in this place.
I love the way the lilacs stand as sentinels, so many years after the houses have fallen back into the earth. I love the way they continue to blossom and bloom and perfume the air, not caring about whether or not there are humans around to appreciate their beauty.
But every time we stumble upon one of these grand old plantings, I wonder, “Who planted these beautiful bushes? Whose house once stood here?” And I fall into daydreams, wondering about those long ago families, living in this place where I now walk.
About fifteen years ago, I planted a tiny lilac just outside my front door. It was a baby offshoot of a lovely bush growing in the yard of one of my old friends. Her home was older than ours, and the lilac had been there, full and mature and proud, when she and her husband had moved in. Knowing that we were living in a wild and desolate yard, in a new house, she gave me the gift of that baby lilac, and I put it in the ground with high hopes. Some five years later, that new plant sent out another shoot, which I planted to the left of my door.
And now the air outside my windows is filled with the impossibly lavish scent of lilac. The bushes are tall and strong, and fertile beyond my wildest hopes.
And as I sit here tonight, in my poorly built house, looking at the cracks in the walls and noting the buckling foundation, it occurs to me that someday in the not-too-distant future, long after this modest home has fallen back into the earth, another couple might come walking along in the woods. They might pause for a moment as their dogs sniff the fallen leaves. They might look into the growth of young maples and birches, and notice the strong and sturdy lilacs that stand side by side, their branches drooping with blooms.
And that other woman, sometime in the future, might look with sadness and sympathy on my lovely lilacs and ask herself, “I wonder who planted these beautiful bushes? I wonder whose house once stood in these woods?”